Entrepreneur Lukas Hafner interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat

Entrepreneur Lukas Hafner interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat

We are often asked about our roots – how did a group of friends from Italy end up starting a company in Helsinki, Finland?


(Our old company –>) booncon PIXELS’ CEO and founder, Lukas Jakob Hafner was interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper in Finland, on this same topic 🙂

The article was originally written by Virve Rissanen and published in Helsingin Sanomat on Monday the 15th of August 2016. The following is a free form translation of that article.

Italian Lukas Hafner started a company in Finland, now praises the Finnish taxation – “What matters is what you get in return”.

The Finnish capital region attracts even foreign startup entrepreneurs. Italian Lukas Hafner came to Finland 5 years ago because being an entrepreneur in Finland is cheap.

Lukas in the booncon PIXELS office, downtown Helsinki. This picture is a screenshot from Helsingin Sanomat, where the original article was published.

Five years ago Lukas Hafner and a group of friends were trying to figure out which European capital would be the best to set up a company in. The three friends all lived in different countries but wanted to find a common base.

Five cities made it to the final phase. Pros and cons were compared. Helsinki won.

(For more detailed info on the numbers and figures leading to this decision, read this earlier blog post.)

Next thing you know, Lukas Hafner had packed his bags and moved to the Northern capital.

“One of us had been on exchange in Mikkeli (a city in Eastern Finland) but the rest knew nothing about the country”, Hafner tells.

The biggest reason raising Helsinki to the highest podium was money. According to Hafner around 20,000€ is needed to set up a limited liability company in Italy when in Finland 3,000€ is enough to get started. Additionally, employee taxes are cheaper in Finland than in the other finalist countries.

“The biggest difference in taxes is what you get with them. Here everything works.”

When Hafner arrived to Finland with two suitcases in fall 2011 he didn’t know where he would live and had no friends in Finland. Goodbyes to work in Italy had been said, everything was in the air.

Hafner and his company booncon managed to get an office space from Aalto University’s Design Factory, where entrepreneurs had the possibility to work with students.

Aalto Design Factory is a multidisciplinary working environment where students can take part in different projects together with companies. This way the students are encouraged to become entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs in turn get new perspectives to their work.

“Design Factory was the door to the Finnish startup community. I formed a family there without whom I would not be here today,” Hafner tells.

This startup community was a lot smaller back then. The 2011 SLUSH event was held at Kaapelitehdas and had around 1,500 attendees.

Last year SLUSH took over the Helsinki Fair Center (Messukeskus) with 15,000 attendees.

“When I came to Finland this mantra of “failure is a gift” was repeated everywhere. I found it a bit funny”, Hafner says.

According to Hafner young Finnish entrepreneurs have nowadays more and more courage to realise their visions. He thinks that this is also due to the Finnish parliament’s positive attitude towards startups.

“Maybe the patter of the “failure is a gift” –mantra was needed and helpful”, Hafner ponders.

Getting used to the Finnish character took Hafner some time.

The most difficult thing to understand was that even after chatting with someone for an entire night, the atmosphere during the next encounter could still be ice cold.

Now that Hafner is familiar with the Finnish slow warming up towards people, he knows how to act with new acquaintances better.

This aside, Hafner finds Finns to be ideal business partners.

“If you agree on something here, it happens. Competitors aren’t using elbow tactics but understand that we can all learn from each other”, Hafner tells.

Bureaucracy is for many Finns a huge headache. Hafner puts some perspective to this: at least here the intention is to make sure things are done right.

“In Italy you’ll get a fine the minute you filled out a form wrongly. In Finland you’ll receive a kind email explaining that you might have made a mistake.”

Hafner also values the balance between work and free-time. Holidays are earned and people also go on them. During his own free-time Hafner is enthusiastic about frisbee golf and adventuring in the nature.

He also enjoys cooking and is excited about using Finnish wild herbs in the kitchen. This enthusiasm has brought Hafner’s pizzas to the Restaurant Day already 3 times. In his menu he combines traditional Italian flavours with and Finnish ingredients. For example, rutabaga makes a perfect pizza filling.

Home in the German speaking Northern Italy (South Tyrol) Hafner visits around 4 times a year. Both family and some clients live there. Italy is also home to sun, which Hafner misses in Finland.

“During the winters I get a little depressed. Then again, when you work most of the time it doesn’t really matter how light it is outside.”

The most recent winter was, however, fortunate for Hafner’s frisbee hobby.

“I was throwing the disk even in January”, Hafner laughs.

Hafner is in Finland to stay. He is studying Finnish, already understands most of the conversations and has a Finnish girlfriend. Saving for an apartment has been started and buying a home is in the plans. Although renting an apartment in Helsinki is easy as you don’t get a separate bill for each housing cost. Additionally, it’s cheaper to live in the downtown area here than it is in other capital cities.

“I used to live in Otaniemi. There the services and restaurants were a little sad whereas the centre of Helsinki is full of nice little places.”

Then a confession follows: when comparing options to set up the base of his company five years ago, Stockholm was inches away from winning.

“I would have found life over there too snobbish for my taste”, Hafner states.

Startup Accelerator Startup Sauna’s applications from Finland (in blue) and abroad (grey). Top three countries: 1. Russia, 2. Ukraine, 3. the Baltics. This is a screenshot of the picture in the original article in Helsingin Sanomat.

The capital area buzz is noticed abroad

The great startup buzz of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa area is starting to be noticed abroad too, believes Tuula Antola, the Director of Economic and Business Development of the city of Espoo. Nobody really keeps track of how many foreign growth companies are established in Finland, but the phenomenon is growing.

The municipalities of the Capital Region have witnessed the establishment of many startup hubs and accelerator programs during the past years. According to Antola a great part of this development is the SLUSH event, targeted towards entrepreneurs and their investors.

“SLUSH has changed the atmosphere on the business field so drastically during the recent years that now also smaller players have room to operate.”

She sees that Helsinki Business Hub, the regional development agency inviting foreign companies to invest in Helsinki, has succeeded in its task.

Janne Peräjoki, the Service Director of Tekes, a Finnish funding agency for innovation, agrees that the amount of foreign startup entrepreneurs coming to Finland in on the rise.

“Finland’s attractiveness is largely based on the available skilled workforce.”, Peräjoki estimates.

The state managed Tekes is already funding multiple promising startups with an international background.

This was a free form translation of an article by Virve Rissanen published originally in Helsingin Sanomat on the 15th of August 2016.



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